The internet has changed the way we buy horses. It isn’t just that it makes it so much easier to find prospective horses, but also that buyers now have the opportunity to make a lot of basic checks in advance so that they only go and see horses where there is a high possibility of suitability. In other ways, however, it’s much the same as it always was. In other words, the onus is on the buyer to do their homework and make sure that the horse they choose is the right one for them before parting with their money.
There are plenty of compelling reasons for taking the time to think carefully about what type of horse would be best for you before you start the buying process. One of them is that it makes it vastly easier to find the adverts which are worth further investigation.
In the old days of newspaper adverts, where, literally, every letter counted towards the cost, advertisers tended to keep strictly to the fundamentals and use abbreviations wherever it was feasibly possible. A typical advert might read, “M, 14.2, 7 GTB/S/C NNR”. This translates as “Mare, 14.2HH, 7 years old. Good to box, shoe and clip. Not novice ride”. One of the joys of internet adverts is that owners have enough space to provide much more meaningful information about the horse they are selling. This can help enormously in narrowing down adverts still further. If an owner hasn’t provided a key piece of information you need, it’s generally straightforward to contact them for clarification.
In the days of print advertising, an expensive horse might be advertised with a, single, photograph. On the internet it is hugely unusual to come across an advert for a horse without at least one photograph. Many sellers appreciate that a prospective buyer will want to see what their horse looks like, but private sellers are just as likely to include their favourite photograph as they are to include a helpful one. Because of this buyers need to be prepared to contact sellers and specify exactly what they want to see. As a minimum you should ask for clear, well-lit photos from the front, rear and both sides. It can also be helpful to have a close up of the horse’s head and possibly their legs as well. This will give you the opportunity to assess the animal’s conformation and look for any signs of old injuries. Some sellers will provide action photos, such as of their horse being schooled or jumping. This can be helpful in seeing whether the animal makes a nice outline, but overall video is better suited to judging a horse in movement.
Even today video can be more complicated for a seller to provide than still photos; however most smartphones can take at least short clips which should cover the basics. The basics include the horse being led out on a flat surface at a walk and trot. It should also be feasible for the seller to film the horse being ridden at a walk, trot and canter and taking a jump. Smartphone footage is unlikely to be of the highest quality but it should be clear enough for you to make an informed judgement of the horse’s gaits, jumping action and overall attitude towards their work. It is unlikely that smartphone footage will be helpful in showing an animal being caught or being ridden in traffic, although if a seller has access to a proper video camera it can be worth asking about this. Likewise it can be worth asking if a seller has access to a trailer or horsebox to get a clip of a horse being loaded (which even a smartphone should manage), but many horse owners just hire transport as they need it so this may not be feasible. Similar comments apply to footage of a horse being shod. This is done on an “as-needed” basis, although there is no harm in mentioning it in case the horse does need a visit from a farrier in any case.
By the time you’ve gone through all of this, you should have narrowed a huge range of choices down to just a few potential candidates. Now it’s time to pick up the phone and chat to the seller. If there are any points you still need to cover have them written down in advance so you remember, but the main purpose of this conversation is for you and the seller to get to know each other and for you to hear about the horse’s general temperament and the reason(s) for sale. Be aware that many sellers will be privately vetting prospective owners to ensure that their horse only goes to a good home so be prepared to answer questions about yourself and the home you plan to give the horse.
A seller should take all reasonable steps to accommodate you being able to see anything you want to see, even if you’ve been sent a video of it already. At the same time, they will expect you to respect their animal’s routine as much as possible. This may mean that you need to make more than one trip on the same day to see everything you want to see, although this is unusual. As it is always preferable to see an animal being caught at first hand, the most sensible approach is usually to time the visit around this. Allow enough time to try out the horse in all areas that matter to you and make sure that the seller has clear and reasonable expectations of what you want to do and how long it will take. For example if you are buying a horse for leisure riding then the most appropriate option would probably be for you to take it out on a hack during which you can get a feel for its behaviour and, basically, how well the two of you get along. The seller may wish to ride out with you to ensure that all goes well, which is understandable, but you will still need to come to an arrangement for you to ride alone for part of the way to check that the horse will actually go willingly away from the company of other horses. Likewise if jumping performance matters to you then you will want to try the horse over a jumping course and the seller may need advance notice of this in order to make appropriate arrangements.
There are many websites online where you can start your search for a horse. A good place to start is by looking on ourHorsessection on Pets4Homes.